Hungarian Opposition Gains in Elections

The Associated Press
Sunday, October 1, 2006; 9:10 PM

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Opposition parties made big gains in municipal elections Sunday following two weeks of protests over the prime minister' admission that he lied about the economy.

Ferenc Gyurcsany, who has resisted weeks of demands that he step down, vowed to continue reforms and austerity measures despite the electoral setback for the coalition parties.

"I would like to remain the prime minister who continues these policies," Gyurcsany said, adding that the leader of the Socialists' coalition partner, the Alliance of Free Democrats, assured him of the party's support.

Shortly after the polls closed, Hungary's president made a broadcast speech in which he accused Gyurcsany of undermining trust in democracy and appeared to suggest parliament should replace him.

The elections were a chance for voters to judge the government after the leak of a tape on which Gyurcsany admitted repeatedly that he lied about the economy in order to get re-elected. The admission led to two days of riots last month that left nearly 150 police and dozens of participants injured _ the worst violence since the 1956 uprising against Communist rule.

About 10,000 people gathered outside parliament Sunday night demanding Gyurcsany resign. The crowds had been generally larger during the earlier protests.

According to preliminary results with 88 percent of the votes counted, the opposition Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Union was poised to win mayor races in at least 15 of Hungary's 23 largest cities, and majorities in the councils in 18 of 19 counties.

The election office said nearly complete results were expected Monday afternoon.

Fidesz leader Viktor Orban said the results showed that Hungarians had voted for Gyurcsany's ouster.

"Hungarian voters tonight have replaced the prime minister in office," Orban said at his party's headquarters. "We call on the Socialist Party to refrain from going against the will of the people and to carry out the voters' decision."

President Laszlo Solyom told the nation Gyurcsany "does not acknowledge that he used improper means to hold on to power and then begin putting the state finances in order. ... This undermines the trust in democracy."

Solyom said he had no power to intervene in "the present situation" but seemed to imply that the Socialist-led coalition, which has a majority in parliament, should choose a new premier.

Coalition politicians said, however, that the electoral results were a sign of the unpopularity of austerity measures the government is imposing to try to lower the largest state budget deficit in the European Union. They vowed to fully support Gyurcsany.

The National Election Office said Sunday's turnout of 53 percent was Hungary's highest for municipal elections since 1990 return to democracy. The previous record was 51 percent in 2002.

© 2006 The Associated Press